Korean industry pushes horror revival

Asian Film Market sees genre's creative renewal

Korean tradition has it that a good fright is the best way to fend off the summer heat.

So it’s the rare Korean producer who doesn’t try to time the release of a horror film for between June and August.

As a result, the Asian Film Market often is the place where all these horror films are made available to buyers for the first time.

Although internationally Asian horror may be considered old news, in Korea this year there is a sense that the genre experienced a bit of a creative renewal.

From traditional horror pics in new settings such as “Muoi” (shot in Vietnam) or “Cadaver” (set in a medical school), to novel adaptation “Black House,” to the atmospheric 1940s-set “Epitaph” to genre films that borrow horror elements such as medical thriller “Wide Awake” and period mystery “Shadows in the Palace,” viewers experienced a wide diversity of styles and subject matter this year.

Korean sales companies will be hoping that a little of this creative juice can be turned into export dollars.

“Particularly for Latin American and European markets, horror is still one of the more vibrant genres for us,” said Tom Oh of CJ Entertainment. “We have seen some declining interest in the genre in Asia, but on the whole horror works well on DVD and is one of our strongest sellers.”

Locally, horror titles did not escape the overall decline in admissions that has the Korean film industry wringing its hands this year.

Best-grossing film among this year’s releases was CJ Entertainment’s Korean-Japanese co-production “Black House,” which opened at No. 1 in late June and ultimately earned close to $10 million.

Based on a Japanese novel, the film featured high production values and a well-known star in Hwang Jeong-min.

Two debut films, Studio 2.0’s “Epitaph” and CJ Entertainment’s “Wide Awake,” had the bad luck to be sharing screens with megahits “D-War” and “May 18” in early August, and topped out in the $4 million range.

Both films earned strong buzz from viewers and critics, however. The former, set in a Seoul hospital during World War II, was the beneficiary of an online petition by cult fans to keep the film in theaters. “I feel ‘Epitaph’ was the best Korean horror film of this year,” said film critic Jeon Chan-il. “It was shot with a confidence that is really unusual for debut directors.”

Meanwhile, another debut film, mystery “Shadows in the Palace,” is drawing good buzz ahead of its Oct. 18 release.

Pic, a murder yarn set in the women’s quarters of a Joseon Dynasty palace, premiered in competition at the San Sebastian Intl. Film Festival, and is one of the films most heavily promoted by CJ Entertainment at this year’s Asian Film Market.